Assistive products for people with autism
We all have heard of the diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder, also known as ASD. ASD is an overarching name for various types of autism: classical autism, Asperger, PDD-NOS, Rett Syndrome, and disintegration disorder. But what does someone with ASD experience anyway? Do they perceive the world differently from people without autism? Are there ways to make sensory stimulation for people with autism more tolerable? In this blog we will discuss this further.
Autism and stimulus processing
People with autism can experience problems with stimulus processing, also called sensory integration. Let's focus on the brain. From the senses, the stimuli come to the brain via the nervous system. The nervous system uses modulation, which causes a stimulus to enter or weaken, depending on the urgency. Stimuli which are not important can be filtered away. This will prevent over-arousal. People with autism, modulating the stimuli often does not work well. This makes them be exposed to more stimuli, which can be very annoying. In addition, stimuli that enter the brain are perceived as a unity. This is often not the case in people with autism. They observe the stimuli individually, making it difficult for them to see a connection between the different stimuli they receive. Creating an overall picture takes extra time and energy. This, in combination with a modulation disorder, can cause a lot of anxiety and overstimulation, which can be manifested in escape-type behavior, concentration problems, collapse, anger outbursts, panic attacks, or even social isolation, or 'burn-out'.
There are different types of tools on the market that help to prevent over-stimulation with people with autism. The main purpose of these tools is to provide structure or to dampen the amount of stimuli a person receives daily. We will list a number of tools below.
Planboard or calendar
People with autism can benefit greatly from a clear structure. Think of a fixed day schedule with fixed routines during the day. This makes a day predictable and stimuli less overwhelming. A planboard with the day structure or a clear agenda can help with this.
It often happens that people with autism experience unexpectedly loud noises or ambient noises in the environment that they themselves have no influence on.
A reduced concentration or total stimulation may be a consequence of this. To prevent people with autism from avoiding places where there is a lot of noise, headphones can be a solution. Think, for example, of a shopping mall or a classroom with 30 other children you have to write a test in. A headset with background noise, for example music, works better than a headset that dampens all ambient sounds. They make the hearing even more stimuli sensitive.
Overstimulation does not come out of nowhere. This is an accumulation of many stimuli, which eventually becomes too much. "The straw that breaks the camel's back" is a perfect metaphor for this. Prevention is better than cure. The same goes for leaps and bounds. A time-in spot can be ideal for this. This is a place where a person can regularly retreat into to regulate his or her stimulation processing.
A weighted vest is a vest that making use of its weight, gives deep pressure to the skin, muscles and joints. It helps to feel better about your own body. This creates a safe and born feeling, where external stimuli that can cause an overwhelming feeling can be perceived less rough. For example, a weighted vest can be used in the classroom when it is time to concentrate on some activity, at work or during shopping in a busy shopping center.
A weighted blanket can be used by people to calm down after excitation, stress or an outburst of anger. The weight of the blanket creates a deep pressure on the whole body, allowing the body to recover and rest. The weighted blanket can also be used as a preventive measure during a time-in moment. Click here to read more about the way the weighted blanket works
A weighted pillow is a pillow with extra weight. For example, you can lay this pillow on your lap during sitting activities, or on any body part when you want to relax in bed or on the couch. The advantage of a weighted pillow is that you can take it with you and thus apply it in any desired situation. For example, think of a meeting where a good concentration skill is required or a waiting period in a waiting room for an important appointment. In the blog 'Concentrate better with a weighted pillow, the benefits and the way a weighted pillow works are discussed in a more detailed way.
Do these tips and tools sound good to you and could this be the solution for you, your child or another family member? Take a look at the SensoLife webshop. A wide range of weighted vests, weighted blankets, and weighted pillow are offered here. It is also possible to get advice from your GP, ergotherapist, physiotherapist or psychologist.